If you want to catch a glimpse of a "falling star," tonight's your chance.
The Lyrid meteor shower peaks overnight on Saturday (April 22) night into early Sunday (April 23) offering skywatchers the opportunity to spot some fast and bright meteors as they streak through the night sky.
According to In The Sky, the activity of the annual Lyrid meteor shower will peak for viewers in New York City at around 9:00 p.m. EDT (0100 GMT) on April 22. From this region of the U.S. the meteor shower will become visible at around 8:29 p.m. EDT (0029) each night, when the point from which its meteors appear to stream, also known as the "radiant," rises above the horizon to the northeast. The Lyrids will disappear as dawn light breaks at around 5:34 a.m. EDT (0924 GMT).
If you can't make it outside or have poor viewing conditions in your area, you're in luck. The Virtual Telescope Project will be hosting a livestream of the Lyrid meteor shower on its website and YouTube channel beginning at 8:30 p.m. on April 22 (0030 GMT on April 23).
The number of Lyrid meteors that are observable increases as the radiant (the point from which the shower appears to originate), located in the Lyra constellation near the star Vega, rises higher above the horizon. At around 5:00 a.m. EDT (0900 GMT) the radiant is at its highest, and New York is turned optimally to the direction from which the meteors appear to streak. This increases the number of Lyrid meteors that pass vertically down into Earth's atmosphere thus creating short trails of light never the radiant.
Longer trails from Lyrid meteors can be seen at other times when, though fewer meteors burn up in the sky, these fireballs travel further across the sky creating longer streaks of light. This is because at these times meteors are entering Earth's atmosphere at shallower angles and can thus traverse more of the sky over our planet before burning up.
The Lyrids, which occur around April each year, aren't the most active of the meteor showers experienced over Earth each year as our planet makes its annual passage around the sun. NASA points out, however, that while the meteors of the Lyrids aren't as plentiful as say those of August's Perseids, this celestial April shower is known for fast and bright meteors.
At peak activity and in ideal viewing conditions like dark skies and clear weather, skywatchers could expect to see around 18 meteors per hour from the Lyrids. Of course, reality is rarely "ideal" so realistic meteor hunters should expect to see less than this, but should still watch out for the occasional bright fireball flash from the Lyrids.
NASA suggests that to increase the chances of spotting the Lyrids, amateur astronomers should head well away from city or street lights, equipped with a sleeping bag, blanket, or lawn chair. After observing dark skies for around 30 minutes allowing your eyes to adjust to the dark, NASA says you should be able to start seeing meteors with your unaided eye, but patience is required.
Like all meteor showers, the Lyrids are caused when Earth passes through a patch of dusty debris left behind by a comet or an asteroid as it orbits the sun.
As comets approach the sun, solid ice is transformed straight into gas, a process called sublimation, and this causes material to be blown from the comets' main bodies. This not only creates the distinctive tails of comets and a characteristic glow called the coma around them, but it also leaves debris around the sun.
When Earth passes through that debris, it enters our planet's atmosphere at speeds as great as 29 miles (47 kilometers) per second.
The debris that creates the Lyrids meteor shower is created by comet C/1861 G1 Thatcher, which takes 415 Earth years to orbit the sun. The comet was discovered on Apr. 5, 1861, by A. E. Thatcher, and last made a close approach to the sun, or perihelion, in the same year.
Humanity has been aware of the Lyrids for way longer than it has known of their parent comet, however. The first recorded sighting of this meteor shower dates back to China in 687 BC, according to NASA. This means our ancestors have been marveling at this particular meteor shower for 2,700 years, making the Lyrids one of the oldest known meteor showers.
And you're looking to catch photos of the Lyrids, don't miss out our guide on how to photograph meteors and meteor showers, as well as our best cameras for astrophotography and best lenses for astrophotography.
Editor's Note: If you snap an image of the Lyrid meteor shower and would like to share it with Space.com's readers, send your photo(s), comments, and your name and location to email@example.com.
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Robert Lea is a science journalist in the U.K. whose articles have been published in Physics World, New Scientist, Astronomy Magazine, All About Space, Newsweek and ZME Science. He also writes about science communication for Elsevier and the European Journal of Physics. Rob holds a bachelor of science degree in physics and astronomy from the U.K.’s Open University. Follow him on Twitter @sciencef1rst.